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LUCCA

Land of PucciniPerhaps the most ancient city in the Versilia, Lucca was certainly inhabited by the Etruscans, of whom little remains. However, it was the place in which Ceasar, Pompey and Crassus formed their triumverate in 56 BC, and its extraordinary roman amphitheatre dates from the second century. The city's famous walls have always provided excellent defenses, and from about 570 AD, Lucca became the center of the Longobard administration, and the capital of old Tuscany , a position it maintained until 1847. The first members of the Puccini family moved here from the mountain village of Celle in 1719, and at around the same time began the family's long association with the Cathedral of San Martino, spanning 124 uninterrupted years. Lucca 's musical tradition was rich, and the importance of musical culture in the community held high importance. Like his ancestors before him, Puccini's father held an prominent position in the community because of this, being himself a composer and a music teacher. It was against this background that Giacomo Puccini was born in the middle of the night between December 22 and 23, 1858, in the house that had belonged to his paternal grandparents since 1815 and was inhabited also by his parents. Young Puccini was raised and lived in this house on the third floor at via di Poggio, 30, with his family until he went to study at the Milan Conservatory at the age of 22. By 1896, Puccini had become successful enough to buy back the family home, which had been sold after his mother's death. Today the house, now a museum, bears witness to the incredible lineage of the Puccini musical dynasty, and is filled with Giacomo Puccini's personal letters, notes, original scores of his music, original photographs, family portraits, furniture, awards and decorations he won throughout his life, and the Steinway grand piano on which he composed most of Turandot at his house in Viareggio. The museum is open to the public, Museo Casa Natale, call (0583) 584028 for information and hours. Puccini's own personal involvement with the Cathedral of San Martino began when he was sent to the seminary school there. There had been a church on that site since the sixth century, the present day facade having been erected in the 12 th century. Many elements have been added as the time has passed and that the Cathedral encompasses many different styles: Roman, Gothic, Renaissance. The Cathedral was at one time the home of two magnificent organs, one dating from the 15 th century and the other from the 17 th century. Little remains of these instruments today but the gallery and frontal pipes are still visible. From the early 1870's, Puccini took part in the music for the Festival of Santa Croce at the cathedral, first as a boy singer, then as a member of the choir, and later as deputy organist. During the years he lived in Lucca as a student, he also played the organ in the nearby Renaissance church of San Paulino , built 1522- 36, in which his first great orchestral composition was performed in 1880. Four generations of Puccinis had played the organ here before him. The Institute of Music that Puccini attended from 1872-1880, then called Instituto Pacini , now known as Instituto Boccherini, contains many examples of the young Puccini's work: a valuable collection of childhood compositions, and some also from his time in Milan (1880-1883), as well as the piano and harmonium on which he took lessons. The Institute also contains compositions by many of Puccini's ancestors, probably donated by Michele Puccini, father of the composer, who taught at the Institute from 1843, and became its director in 1862, a position he held until he died. During these years when Puccini was a student, the Institute was located at Piazza Santa Maria Forisportam in an ancient monastery attached to the church. Throughout his life, Puccini enjoyed a close friendship with Alfredo Caselli, owner of a cafe in the middle of the historic center of Lucca . Cafe Caselli, now called Cafe Simo , was for many years a gathering place for intellectuals, artists and musicians, whose friendships and connections with each other were shepherded by the cafe owner. Today, the cafe remains largely unchanged from the way it was 100 years ago, with much the same furniture and original decorations. Every third weekend of the month, a huge antiques market is held in the center and surrounding streets of Lucca , rain or shine. Lucca is closed to non-essential traffic; park outside the city walls and walk through one of the porta, or gates, into the City. Lucca is located east of Viareggio on the autostrada A11 to Florence.